What’s milk got to do with school improvement?

Glass of milk being splashed (a metaphor for school improvement)

Imagine your boss comes along and asks you: ‘How can we improve your working life?’ What do you say?

If my experience of asking lots of questions to teachers over the years is anything to go by, most people will freeze and either shake their head or say something like, “Um… err.. that’s a big question. Can I get back to you?”

One of the reasons why people do this is because there’s so many aspects to a job, and so many ways that the answer could potentially hurt your relationship with the boss, that it’s simply too big to take in!

In less pressured circumstances however – for example, given time to think and write, and with anonymity – people will often come up with more detailed and specific answers. Which is one of the reasons we created SchoolSurveys.com as an adjacent to our work at Teacher Tapp. We wanted to give people a way to speak honestly and give solutions, not just to policymakers (like on TT), but also to their own school leaders.

But what do people say when you start asking how you could improve their working life?

Now that we have over 200 schools using the service I’m regularly able to read what staff are telling their leaders, and I’m often surprised at how small but vivid the requests can be.

In one report, I remember several teachers saying that their biggest issue at work was the fact that the milk in the staffroom was frozen in the morning. It was winter, and the milk float was presumably leaving bottles at the front door early in the morning, which meant no one could get a drink until the tea was defrosted.

What a great thing to learn! Stick a thermal bag out on the step each night for the milkie to drop the bottles into, and lo, the staff have had a problem solved. Will it solve recruitment overnight? No. Does the small stuff matter? Absolutely.

In fact, we see these small-but-boring things come up a lot. Schools where computers need special cables that keep getting lost, and no one knows how to replace them. Issues with window blinds or radiators.

But should we be spending time on minutiae when we need to be delivering on big school improvement priorities?

The constrained time in schools means that leaders can think in either/or terms. But there’s no reason why the people who are acting on issues always have to be the senior leaders.

Among the schools running School Surveys, we’ve seen ones who have built a small community of teachers who are interested in improvement and well-being who read over the surveys, identify the wins, and then pitch back to the head what they’d like to happen to improve it. Or, in some cases, just get on and improve it. A thermal bag on a doorstep doesn’t take a committee. It takes a trip to Poundland and someone with a good enough memory to stick it outside each night.

Indeed, the more I read the School Surveys and the more we’ve investigated what makes a difference to morale in schools, the more I think sweating the small stuff may be critical to school improvement. It’s not what I thought we’d learn when we started, but it’s certainly what the reports so far seem to suggest.

If you’d like to learn more about our School Surveys from Teacher Tapp service, please glance over SchoolSurveys.com and complete the form for a quick strategy call. They usually take less than 20 minutes. We like to keep things efficient!